An executive summary of the new book by Otto Scharmer
Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges
The Social Technology of Presencing
An executive summary of the new book by Otto Scharmer
Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges
In his new book Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges (Cambridge,
MA: Society for Organizational Learning, 2007), Otto Scharmer introduces
readers to the theory and practice of the U process, based on a concept he
calls “presencing.” A blend of the words “presence” and “sensing,” presencing
signifies a heightened state of attention that allows individuals and groups to
shift the inner place from which they function. When that shift happens, people
begin to operate from a future space of possibility that they feel wants to
emerge. Being able to facilitate that shift is, according to Scharmer, the essence
of leadership today. At the end of this Executive Summary you will find more
complete coverage of how Theory U is being used by numerous stakeholders and
corporate innovators, and information on how you might become involved with
the Presencing Institute.
Tapping Our Collective Capacity
We live in a time of massive institutional
failure, collectively creating results that
nobody wants. Climate change. AIDS. Hunger.
Poverty. Violence. Terrorism. Destruction of
communities, nature, life—the foundations
of our social, economic, ecological, and
spiritual well-being. This time calls for a new
consciousness and a new collective leadership
capacity to meet challenges in a more conscious,
intentional, and strategic way. The development
of such a capacity will allow us to create a future
of greater possibility.
Illuminating the Blind Spot
Why do our attempts to deal with the challenges
of our time so often fail? Why are we stuck in
so many quagmires today? The cause of our
collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper
dimension of leadership and transformational
change. This “blind spot” exists not only in our
collective leadership but also in our everyday
social interactions. We are blind to the source
dimension from which effective leadership and
social action come into being.
We know a great deal about what leaders do and
how they do it. But we know very little about the
inner place, the source from which they operate.
Successful leadership depends on the quality
of attention and intention that the leader brings
to any situation. Two leaders in the same
circumstances doing the same thing can bring
about completely different outcomes, depending
on the inner place from which each operates. The
nature of this inner place in leaders is something
of a mystery to us. We do know something about
the inner dimensions of athletes because studies
have been conducted on what goes on within an
athlete’s mind and imagination in preparation
for a competitive event. This knowledge has
led to practices designed to enhance athletic
performance from the “inside out,” so to speak.
But in the arena of management and leading
transformational change, we know very little
about these inner dimensions, and very seldom
are specific techniques applied to enhance
management performance from the inside out.
In a way, this lack of knowledge constitutes a
“blind spot” in our approach to leadership and
Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention and intention that
the leader brings to any situation. Two leaders in the same circumstances
doing the same thing can bring about completely different outcomes,
depending on the inner place from which each operates.
We know very little about the invisible
dimension of leadership, even though it is our
source dimension.
Slowing Down to Understand
At its core, leadership is about shaping and
shifting how individuals and groups attend
to and subsequently respond to a situation.
The trouble is that most leaders are unable to
recognize, let alone change, the structural habits
of attention used in their organizations.
Learning to recognize the habits of attention in
any particular business culture requires, among
other things, a particular kind of listening.
Over more than a decade of observing people’s
interactions in organizations, I have noted four
different types of listening.
Listening 1: Downloading
“Yeah, I know that already.” I call this type
of listening “downloading”—listening by
reconfirming habitual judgments. When
you are in a situation where everything
that happens confirms what you already
know, you are listening by downloading.
Listening 2: Factual
“Ooh, look at that!” This type of listening
is factual or object-focused: listening by
paying attention to facts and to novel or
disconfirming data. You switch off your
inner voice of judgment and listen to the
voices right in front of you. You focus on
what differs from what you already know.
Factual listening is the basic mode of
good science. You let the data talk to you.
You ask questions, and you pay careful
attention to the responses you get.
Listening 3: Empathic
“Oh, yes, I know exactly how you feel.”
This deeper level of listening is empathic
listening. When we are engaged in real
dialogue and paying careful attention,
we can become aware of a profound shift
in the place from which our listening
originates. We move from staring at the
objective world of things, figures, and
facts (the “it-world”) to listening to the
story of a living and evolving self (the
“you-world”). Sometimes, when we say
“I know how you feel,” our emphasis is on
a kind of mental or abstract knowing. But
to really feel how another feels, we have
to have an open heart. Only an open heart
gives us the empathic capacity to connect
directly with another person from within.
When that happens, we feel a profound
switch as we enter a new territory in the
relationship; we forget about our own
agenda and begin to see how the world
appears through someone else’s eyes.
Listening 4: Generative
“I can’t express what I experience in
words. My whole being has slowed
down. I feel more quiet and present
and more my real self. I am connected
to something larger than myself.” This
type of listening moves beyond the
current field and connects us to an even
deeper realm of emergence. I call this
level of listening “generative listening,”
or listening from the emerging field of
future possibility. This level of listening
requires us to access not only our open
heart, but also our open will—our
capacity to connect to the highest future
Figure 1. Three Perspectives on the Leader’s Work:
The source dimension of leadership is often invisible
and functions as a “blind spot” in the process of social
reality formation and transformational change.
Blind spot: Inner place
from which we operate
possibility that can emerge. We no longer
look for something outside. We no longer
empathize with someone in front of us.
We are in an altered state. “Communion”
or “grace” is maybe the word that comes
closest to the texture of this experience.
When you operate from Listening 1 (down-
loading), the conversation reconfirms what you
already knew. You reconfirm your habits of
thought: “There he goes again!” When you operate
from Listening 2 (factual listening), you disconfirm
what you already know and notice what is new out
there: “Boy, this looks so different today!” When
you choose to operate from Listening 3 (empathic
listening), your perspective is redirected to seeing
the situation through the eyes of another: “Boy,
yes, now I really understand how you feel about
it. I can sense it now too.” And finally, when you
choose to operate from Listening 4 (generative
listening), you realize that by the end of the
conversation you are no longer the same person
you were when it began. You have gone through
a subtle but profound change that has connected
you to a deeper source of knowing, including the
knowledge of your best future possibility and self.
Deep Attention and Awareness
Deep states of attention and awareness are well
known by top athletes in sports. For example,
Bill Russell, the key player on the most
successful basketball team ever (the Boston
Celtics, who won 11 championships in 13
years), described his experience of playing in
the zone as follows:
“Every so often a Celtics game would
heat up so that it became more than a
physical or even mental game, and would
be magical. That feeling is difficult to
describe, and I certainly never talked
about it when I was playing. When it
happened, I could feel my play rise to
a new level. It came rarely, and would
last anywhere from five minutes to a
whole quarter, or more. Three or four
plays were not enough to get it going.
It would surround not only me and the
other Celtics, but also the players on the
other team, and even the referees.
At that special level, all sorts of odd
things happened: The game would be in
the white heat of competition, and yet
somehow I wouldn’t feel competitive,
which is a miracle in itself. I’d be putting
out the maximum effort, straining,
coughing up parts of my lungs as we ran,
and yet I never felt the pain. The game
would move so quickly that every fake,
cut, and pass would be surprising, and yet
nothing could surprise me. It was almost
as if we were playing in slow motion.
During those spells, I could almost sense
how the next play would develop and
where the next shot would be taken.
Even before the other team brought the
ball inbounds, I could feel it so keenly
that I’d want to shout to my teammates,
‘it’s coming there!’—except that I knew
everything would change if I did. My
premonitions would be consistently
correct, and I always felt then that I not
only knew all the Celtics by heart, but also
all the opposing players, and that they all
knew me. There have been many times in
my career when I felt moved or joyful, but
these were the moments when I had chills
pulsing up and down my spine.
“... On the five or ten occasions when the
game ended at that special level, I literally
did not care who had won. If we lost, I’d
still be as free and high as a sky hawk.”
(William F. Russell, Second Wind: The
Memoirs of an Opinionated Man, 1979)
According to Russell’s description, as you
move from regular to peak performance, you
experience a slowing down of time, a widening
of space, a panoramic type of perception, and
a collapse of boundaries between people, even
between people on opposing teams (see figure
2: movement from Fields 1-2 to Fields 3-4).
While top athletes and championship teams
around the world have begun to work with refined
techniques of moving to peak performance,
where the experience Russell describes is more
likely to happen, business leaders operate largely
without these techniques—or indeed, without
any awareness that such techniques exist.
To be effective leaders, we must first understand
the field, or inner space, from which we are
operating. Theory U identifies four such “field
structures of attention,” which result in four
different ways of operating. These differing
structures affect not only the way we listen, but
also how group members communicate with
one another, and how institutions form their
geometries of power (figure 2).
The four columns of figure 2 depict four
fundamental meta-processes of the social field
that people usually take for granted:
• thinking (individual)
• conversing (group)
To be effective leaders, we must first understand the field, or inner space,
from which we are operating. Theory U identifies four such “field structures
of attention,” which result in four different ways of operating.
(global systems)
Talking tough
Listening 2 :
FieId 2:
Operating from the
current it-world
Listening 3:
FieId 3:
Operating from
current you-world
Listening 4:
Seeing from
the emerging
creativity, flow
FieId 4:
Operating from
the highest future
possiblity that is
wanting to emerge
of Attention
Talking nice,
Listening 1:
habits of thought
Central plan
FieId 1:

Operating from
the old me-world
Figure 2. Structures of Attention Determine the Path of Social Emergence: In order to respond to
the major challenges of our time, we need to extend our ways of operating from Fields 1 or 2 to Fields
3 or 4 across all system levels.
• structuring (institutions)
• ecosystem coordination (global systems)
Albert Einstein famously noted that problems
cannot be resolved by the same level of
consciousness that created them. If we address our
21st-century challenges with reactive mindsets
that mostly reflect the realities of the 19th and 20th
centuries (Field 1 and Field 2), we will increase
frustration, cynicism, and anger. Across all four
meta-processes, we see the need to learn to respond
from a deeply generative source (Field 4).
Summing up: the way we pay attention to
a situation, individually and collectively,
determines the path the system takes and how it
emerges (figure 2). On all four levels—personal,
group, institutional, and global—shifting
from reactive responses and quick fixes on a
symptoms level (Fields 1 and 2) to generative
responses that address the systemic root issues
(Fields 3 and 4) is the single most important
leadership challenge of our time.
The U: One Process, Five Movements
In order to move from a reactive Field 1 or 2
to a generative Field 3 or 4 response, we must
embark on a journey. In an interview project on
profound innovation and change that included
150 practitioners and thought leaders I heard
many practitioners describe the various core
elements of this journey. One person who did so
in particularly accessible words is Brian Arthur,
the founding head of the economics group at the
Santa Fe Institute. When Joseph Jaworski and I
visited him he explained to us that there are two
fundamentally different sources of cognition.
One is the application of existing frameworks
(downloading) and the other accessing one’s
inner knowing. All true innovation in science,
business, and society is based on the latter, not
on the everyday downloading type of cognition.
So we asked him, “How do you do that? If I
want to learn that as an organization or as
an individual, what do I have to do?” In his
response he walked us through a sequence of
three core movements.
The first movement he called “observe, observe,
observe.” It means to stop downloading and start
listening. It means to stop our habitual ways of
operating and immerse ourselves in the places
of most potential, the places that matter most to
the situation we are dealing with.
The second movement Brian Arthur referred to
as “retreat and reflect: allow the inner knowing
to emerge.” Go to the inner place of stillness
where knowing comes to the surface. We listen
to everything we learned during the “observe,
observe,” and we attend to what wants to
emerge. We pay particular attention to our own
role and journey.
The third movement, according to Brian Arthur, is
about “acting in an instant.” This means to prototype
the new in order to explore the future by doing. To
create a little landing strip of the future that allows
for hands-on testing and experimentation.
That whole process—observe, observe, access
your sources of stillness and knowing, act
in an instant—I have come to refer to as the
U process because it can be depicted and
understood as a U-shaped journey. In practical
contexts the U-shaped journey usually requires
two additional movements: an initial phase of
building common ground (co-initiating) and a
concluding phase that focuses on reviewing,
sustaining, and advancing the practical results
(co-evolving). The five movements of the U
journey are depicted in figure 3.
On all four levels—personal, group, institutional, and global—shifting from
reactive responses and quick fixes on a symptoms level (Fields 1 and 2) to
generative responses that address the systemic root issues (Fields 3 and
4) is the single most important leadership challenge of our time.
1. Co-initiating: build common intent. Stop
and listen to others and to what life calls
you to do
At the beginning of each project, one or a few
key individuals gather together with the intention
of making a difference in a situation that really
matters to them and to their communities. As
they coalesce into a core group, they maintain
a common intention around their purpose, the
people they want to involve, and the process
they want to use. The context that allows
such a core group to form is a process of deep
listening—listening to what life calls you and
others to do.
2. Co-sensing: observe, observe, observe.
Go to the places of most potential and lis-
ten with your mind and heart wide open
The limiting factor of transformational change
is not a lack of vision or ideas, but an inability
to sense—that is, to see deeply, sharply, and
collectively. When the members of a group see
together with depth and clarity, they become
aware of their own collective potential—almost
as if a new, collective organ of sight was opening
up. Goethe put it eloquently: “Every object,
well contemplated, opens up a new organ of
perception within us.”
The late cognitive scientist Francisco Varela once
told me about an experiment that had been conducted
with newborn kittens, whose eyes were not yet open.
They were put together in pairs, with one on the back
of the other in such a way that only the lower kitten
was able to move. Both kittens experienced the same
spatial movements, but all of the legwork was done
by the lower cat. The result of this experiment was
that the lower cat learned to see quite normally, while
the upper cat did not—its capacity to see developed
inadequately and more slowly. The experiment
illustrates that the ability to see is developed by the
activity of the whole organism.
When it comes to organizing knowledge
management, strategy, innovation, and learning,
we are like the upper cat—we outsource the
legwork to experts, consultants, and teachers
to tell us how the world works. For simple
Figure 3. The U as One Process with Five Movements:In order to move from Field 1 or 2 to Field 3
or 4 ways of operating, we need to move first into intimate connection with the world and to a place of
inner knowing that emerges from within, followed by bringing forth the new, which entails discovering
the future by doing.
Build Common Intent stop and listen to
others and to what life calls you to do
Embody the New in Ecosystems that
facilitate seeing and acting from the whole
Connect to the Source of Inspiration, and Will
go to the place of silence and allow the inner knowing to emerge
Observe, Observe, Observe go to the
places of most potential and listen with your
mind and heart wide open
Prototype the New in living examples to
explore the future by doing
problems, this may be an appropriate approach.
But if you are in the business of innovation,
then the upper cat’s way of operating is utterly
dysfunctional. The last thing that any real
innovator would outsource is perception. When
innovating, we must go places ourselves, talk
with people, and stay in touch with issues as
they evolve. Without a direct link to the context
of a situation, we cannot learn to see and act
What is missing most in our current organizations
and societies is a set of practices that enable this
kind of deep seeing—“sensing”—to happen
collectively and across boundaries. When
sensing happens, the group as a whole can see
the emerging opportunities and the key systemic
forces at issue.
Presencing: Connect to the source of inspi-
ration and common will.Go to the place of si-
lence and allow the inner knowing to emerge
At the bottom of the U, individuals or groups on
the U journey come to a threshold that requires
a “letting go” of everything that is not essential.
In many ways, this threshold is like the gate in
ancient Jerusalem called “The Needle,” which
was so narrow that when a fully loaded camel
reached it, the camel driver had to take off all
the bundles so the camel could pass through—
giving rise to the New Testament saying that “It
is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom
of God.”
At the same time that we drop the non-essential
aspects of the self (“letting go”), we also open
ourselves to new aspects of our highest possible
future self (“letting come”). The essence of
presencing is the experience of the coming in of
the new and the transformation of the old. Once
a group crosses this threshold, nothing remains
the same. Individual members and the group as a
whole begin to operate with a heightened level of
energy and sense of future possibility. Often they
then begin to function as an intentional vehicle
for the future that they feel wants to emerge.
4. Co-creating: Prototype the new in living
examples to explore the future by doing
I often work with people trained as engineers,
scientists, managers, and economists (as I
was). But when it comes to innovation, we all
received the wrong education. In all our training
and schooling one important skill was missing:
the art and practice of prototyping. That’s what
you learn when you become a designer. What
designers learn is the opposite of what the rest
of us are socialized and habituated to do.
I still remember my first visit to an art and design
school when I was a doctoral student in Germany.
Because I had published a book on aesthetics and
management, a design professor at the Berlin
Academy of Arts, Nick Roericht, invited me to
co-teach a workshop with him. The night before
the workshop, I was invited to meet with Roericht
and his inner circle at his loft apartment. I was
eager to meet the group and to see how a famous
designer had furnished his Berlin loft. When I
arrived, I was shocked. The loft was spacious,
beautiful—but virtually empty. In a very small
corner kitchen stood a sink, an espresso machine,
a few cups, and a quasi kitchen table. But no
drawers. No dishwasher. No table in the main
room. No chairs. No sofa. Nothing except a few
cushions to sit on.
We had a great evening, and later I learned
that the empty loft reflected his approach to
prototyping. For example, when he developed
a prototype interior design for the dean’s office
at his school, he took out all of the furniture and
then watched what happened there. Roericht and
his students then furnished it according to the
dean’s actual needs—the meetings he conducted
What is missing most in our current organizations and societies is a set
of practices that enable this kind of deep seeing—“sensing”—to happen
collectively and across boundaries.
and so forth—supplying needed objects and
furnishings in real time. Prototyping demands
that first you empty out all the stuff (“let go”).
Then you determine what you really need (“let
come”) and provide prototype solutions for
those real needs in real time. You observe and
adapt based on what happens next.
This was such a great lesson for me. I thought:
Boy, if this famous design professor has a
loft with no things in it, why can’t the best
management schools and all of the famous
management minds create equally simple
organizational design that throws out all of the
dysfunctional bureaucracy?
The next day we started the workshop around
1:00 p.m. The task was to invent game boards
for all of the current and alternative ways of
governing the local and global economy. A
fairly ambitious design challenge, I thought. But
it was what Roericht said next that really floored
me: “Okay, now split up into teams. At 5:00 p.m.
each team presents its first prototype.” I was
dumbfounded. In my world of economics and
management, the reaction to such a design task
would have been this: “First, it’s too big. You
need to narrow your question. Second, if you do
it, take a year or so to review all the work that
has been done on the topic. Then come up with
a summary of that and maybe a suggestion for
what to do next.” But come up with a prototype
in four hours? My professional training insisted
that this approach lacked depth and method. But
what I didn’t realize was that coming up with a
prototype in less than four hours is the method.
While the conventional method is based on
analytical penetration, then blueprinting the
design, then building it, the prototyping method
works differently. First clarify the question, then
observe, then build in order to observe more,
then adapt, and so forth.
So the prototype is not the stage that comes after
the analysis. The prototype is part of the sensing
and discovery process in which we explore the
future by doing rather than by thinking and
reflecting. This is such a simple point—but I
have found that the innovation processes of
many organizations are stalled right there, in the
old analytical method of “analysis paralysis.”
The co-creation movement of the U journey
results in a set of small living examples that
explore the future by doing. It also results in
a vibrant and rapidly widening network of
change-makers who leverage their learning
across prototypes and who help each other deal
with whatever innovation challenges they face.
5. Co-evolving: Embody the new in ecosystems
that facilitate seeing and acting from the whole
Once we have developed a few prototypes and
microcosms of the new, the next step is to review
what has been learned—what’s working and what
isn’t—and then decide which prototypes might
have the highest impact on the system or situation
at hand. Coming up with a sound assessment
at this stage often requires the involvement of
stakeholders from other institutions and sectors.
Very often, what you think you will create at the
beginning of the U process is quite different from
what eventually emerges.
The co-evolving movement results in an
innovation ecosystem that connects high-
leverage prototype initiatives with the
institutions and players that can help take it to
the next level of piloting and scaling.
The five movements of the U apply both to the
macro level of innovation projects and change
architectures and to the meso and micro levels of
group conversation or one-on-one interactions.
In martial arts you go through the U in a fraction
of a second. When applied to larger innovation
projects, the U process unfolds over longer periods
of time and in different forms. Thus, the team
composition in such projects usually changes and
adapts to some degree after each movement.
A New Social Technology: Seven
Leadership Capacities
The U process feels familiar to people who use
creativity in their professional work. They say,
“Sure. I know this way of operating from my
own peak performance experiences. I know it
from people whom I consider highly creative. No
problem.” But then, when you ask, “How does
work look in your current institutional context”
they roll their eyes and say, “No, hell, it’s different.
It looks more like this downloading thing.”
Why is that? Why is the U the road less traveled
in institutions?
Because it requires an inner journey and hard
work. The ability to move through the U as a
team or an organization or a system requires a
new social technology. The social technology of
presencing is based on seven essential leadership
capacities that a core group must cultivate.
Without the cultivation of these capacities,
the process described above (five movements)
won’t deliver the desired results.
1. Holding the Space: Listen to What Life
Calls You to Do
“The key principle of all community organizing
is this,” L.A. Agenda’s Anthony Thigpenn once
told me. “You never hand over the completed
cake. Instead, you invite people into your
kitchen to collectively bake the cake.”
The trouble with this principle is that most
meetings in most organizations work the
other way around. You only call a meeting
once you have completed the cake and you
want to cut it and serve it. There is a reason,
however, why people often shy away from
convening conversational situations that are
more upstream, that start with the desire for a
cake rather than with the completed cake. Such
endeavors require a special form of leadership.
The leader must create or “hold a space” that
invites others in.
The key to holding a space is listening: to
yourself (to what life calls you to do), to the
others (particularly others that may be related
to that call), and to that which emerges from
the collective that you convene. But it also
requires a good deal of intention. You must keep
your attention focused on the highest future
possibility of the group. And finally, it takes a lot
of kitchen gear. It requires you to be intentionally
incomplete, to hand over the recipe, cooking tools,
and ingredients rather than the finished cake. Yes,
you can talk about why this is a particularly good
recipe, you can add some ingredients, and you
can help mix the batter, too. You can even go first
if you want to. But you must intentionally leave a
lot of open space for others to contribute. That’s
why building the U leadership capacity starts
with the principle of incompleteness. You invite
others to help plan the menu, not to arrive after
the dessert is in the oven.
2. Observing: Attend with Your Mind
Wide Open
The second capacity in the U process is to observe
with an open mind by suspending your voice of
judgment (VOJ). Suspending your VOJ means
shutting down (or embracing and changing)
the habit of judging based on past experience.
Suspending your VOJ means opening up a new
space of inquiry and wonder. Without suspending
that VOJ, attempts to get inside the places of most
potential will be futile.
Here is a case in point: In 1981, an engineering
team from Ford Motor Company visited the
Toyota plants that operated on the “lean” Toyota
production system. Although the Ford engineers
had first-hand access to the revolutionary new
production system, they were unable to “see”
or recognize what was in front of them and
claimed that they had been taken on a staged
tour—because they had seen no inventory,
they assumed they had not seen a “real” plant.
The reaction of the engineers reminds us how
difficult it is to let go of existing ideas and
beliefs, even when we find ourselves in the
place of most potential.
3. Sensing: Connect with Your Heart
The third capacity in the U process is to
connect to the deeper forces of change through
opening your heart. I once asked a successful
top executive at Nokia to share her most
important leadership practices. Time and time
again, her team was able to anticipate changes
in technology and context. Time and again,
they were ahead of the curve. Her answer?
“I facilitate the opening process.” This is the
essence of what moving down the left side
of the U is all about—facilitating an opening
process. The process involves the tuning of three
instruments: the open mind, the open heart, and
the open will. While the open mind is familiar to
most of us, the other two capacities draw us into
less familiar territory.
To understand more about that territory, I once
interviewed psychologist Eleanor Rosch of
the University of California at Berkeley. She
explained the difference by comparing two types
of cognition. The first is the analytical knowledge
upon which all conventional cognitive science is
based. “In this state,” said Rosch, “the world is
thought of as a set of separate objects and states
of affairs and the human mind as a machine that
isolates, stores, and retrieves knowledge as an
indirect representation of the world and oneself.”
The other type of knowledge, the one that relates
to the open heart and open will, is gained “by
means of interconnected wholes (rather than
isolated contingent parts)…. Such knowing
is ‘open,’ rather than determinate; and a sense
of unconditional value, rather than conditional
usefulness, is an inherent part of the act of
knowing itself.” Action resulting from that type
of awareness, Rosch continued, “is claimed
to be spontaneous, rather than the result of
decision-making; it is compassionate, since it is
based on wholes larger than the self; and it can
be shockingly effective.”
To awaken this other cognitive capacity in
people, teams, and organizations, I have found
it productive to have people work on real
projects in real contexts that they care about
and to support them with methods and tools
that cultivate the open heart. The mind works
like a parachute, as the old saying goes—it
only functions when open. The same applies
to the intelligence of the heart. It only becomes
available to us when we cultivate our capacity
to appreciate and love. In the words of biologist
Humberto Maturana, “Love is the only emotion
that enhances our intelligence.”
4. Presencing: Connect to the Deepest
Source of Your Self and Will
The fourth capacity in the U process is
connecting to the deepest source of your self
and will. While an open heart allows us to see a
situation from the whole, the open will enables
us to begin to act from the emerging whole.
Danish sculptor and management consultant Erik
Lemcke described to me his experience of this
process: “After having worked with a particular
sculpture for some time, there comes a certain
moment when things are changing. When this
moment of change comes, it is no longer me,
alone, who is creating. I feel connected to
something far deeper and my hands are co-
creating with this power. At the same time, I feel
that I am being filled with love and care as my
perception is widening. I sense things in another
way. It is a love for the world and for what is
coming. I then intuitively know what I must
do. My hands know if I must add or remove
something. My hands know how the form
should manifest. In one way, it is easy to create
with this guidance. In those moments I have a
strong feeling of gratitude and humility.”
5. Crystallizing: Access the Power of Intention
The back-stories of successful and inspiring
projects, regardless of size, often have a similar
story line—a very small group of key persons
commits itself to the purpose and outcomes
of the project. That committed core group and
its intention then goes out into the world and
creates an energy field that begins to attract
people, opportunities, and resources that make
things happen. Then momentum builds. The
core group functions as a vehicle for the whole
to manifest.
In an interview, Nick Hanauer, the founder of
half a dozen highly successful companies, told
Joseph Jaworski and me: “One of my favorite
sayings, attributed to Margaret Mead, has
always been ‘Never doubt that a small group
of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever
has.’ I totally believe it. You could do almost
“While an open heart allows us to see a situation from the whole, the open
will enables us to begin to act from the emerging whole.”
anything with just five people. With only one
person, it’s hard—but when you put that one
person with four or five more, you have a force
to contend with. All of a sudden, you have
enough momentum to make almost anything
that’s immanent or within reach actually real.”
6. Prototyping: Integrating Head, Heart,
and Hand
The sixth capacity in the U process is the
prototyping skill of integrating head, heart, and
hand. When helping a golfer who has lost his
swing, the master coach in the novel and film
“The Legend of Bagger Vance” advises, “Seek
it with your hands—don’t think about it, feel it.
The wisdom in your hands is greater than the
wisdom of your head will ever be.”
That piece of advice articulates a key principle
about how to operate on the right side of the
U. Moving down the left side of the U is about
opening up and dealing with the resistance of
thought, emotion, and will; moving up the
right side is about intentionally reintegrating
the intelligence of the head, the heart, and the
hand in the context of practical applications.
Just as the inner enemies on the way down the
U represent the VOJ (voice of judgment), the
VOC (voice of cynicism), and the VOF (voice
of fear), the enemies on the way up the U are
the three old methods of operating: executing
without improvisation and mindfulness
(reactive action); endless reflection without
a will to act (analysis paralysis); and talking
without a connection to source and action (blah-
blah-blah). These three enemies share the same
structural feature. Instead of balancing the
intelligence of the head, heart, and hand, one
of the three dominates—the will in mindless
action, the head in endless reflection, the heart
in endless networking.
An interesting detail during this stage is that
the sequence in which the new shows up in the
human mind is contrary to conventional wisdom.
(1) The new usually begins with an unspecified
emotion or feeling. (2) That feeling morphs into
a sense of the what: the new insight or idea. (3)
Then the what is related to a context, problem, or
challenge where it could produce a breakthrough
innovation (the where: the context). (4) Only then
do you begin to develop a form in which the what
and the where are framed by a rational structure
and form of presentation (the why: rational
reasoning). This sequence can be traced in
almost any type of breakthrough innovation. The
biggest mistake when dealing with innovation is
to first focus on the rational mind. In order for
a new insight to emerge, the other conditions
must already exist. In short, connecting to one’s
best future possibility and creating powerful
breakthrough ideas requires learning to access
the intelligence of the heart and the hand—not
just the intelligence of the head.
7. Performing: Playing the Macro Violin
The seventh capacity in the U process is learning
to play the macro violin. When I asked him to
describe presencing-type moments from his
music experience, the violinist Miha Pogacnik
told me about his first concert in Chartres. “I felt
that the cathedral almost kicked me out. ‘Get
out with you!’ she said. For I was young and I
tried to perform as I always did: by just playing
my violin. But then I realized that in Chartres
you actually cannot play your small violin, but
you have to play the ‘macro violin’. The small
violin is the instrument that is in your hands.
The macro-violin is the whole cathedral that
surrounds you. The cathedral of Chartres is built
entirely according to musical principles. Playing
the macro violin requires you to listen and to
play from another place, from the periphery.
“...connecting to one’s best future possibility and creating powerful
breakthrough ideas requires the intelligence of the heart and the hand
—not just the intelligence of the head.”
You have to move your listening and playing
from within to beyond yourself.”
Most systems, organizations, and societies today
lack the two essentials that enable us to play
the macro violin: (1) leaders who convene the
right sets of players (frontline people who are
connected with one another through the same
value chain), and (2) a social technology that
allows a multi-stakeholder gathering to shift
from debating to co-creating the new.
Still, there are many examples of how this
capacity to act and operate from the larger
whole can work. One is in disaster response.
When a disaster occurs, other mechanisms
(like hierarchy) don’t exist or aren’t sufficient
to deal with the situation (like markets or
networked negotiation). In these situations
we see the emergence of a fourth mechanism
of coordinating—seeing and acting from the
presence of the whole (figure 2).
In summary, the seven Theory U leadership
capacities are the enabling conditions that must
be in place for the U process and its moments to
work (figure 4). In the absence of these seven
leadership capacities, the U process cannot be
These seven Theory U leadership capacities
are practiced today in the following examples
of multi-stakeholder innovation and corporate
applications. You are also invited to learn more
about the Presencing Institute, which is dedicated
to advancing these new social technologies by
integrating science, consciousness, and profound
social change into a coherent methodology of
sensing and co-creating the future that is seeking
to emerge.
Figure 4. A New Social Technology with Seven Leadership Capacities: The ability to move through
a U process as a team, an organization, or a system requires a new social technology, presencing, an
inner journey and intimate connection that helps to bring forth the world anew.
1. Co-initate common intent:
stop and listen to others and to
what life calls you to do
2. Co-sense the fieId of change:
go to the places of most potential and
listen with your mindand heart wide open
3. Co-presence inspiration and common wiII:
go to the place of silence and allow
the inner knowing to emerge
4. Co-create microcosms:
prototype the new toexplore
the future by doing
5. Co-evoIve thru innovations
in infrastructuresthat facilitate seeing
and actingfrom the emerging whole

1. Co-initiating:
BuiId Common Intent
stop and Iisten to others and
to what Iife caIIs you to do
5. Co-evoIving: Embody
the New in Ecosystems
that faciIitate seeing and
acting from the whoIe
4. Co-creating:
Prototype the New
in Iiving exampIes to
expIore the future
by doing
2. Co-sensing: Observe,
Observe, Observe
prototype the new
in Iiving exampIes to
expIore the future
by doing
3. Presencing: Connect to the
Source of Inspiration and WiII
go to the pIace of siIence and aIIow
the inner knowing to emerge
deep dive
2. Observing:
Attend with Your
Wide Open Mind
3. Sensing:
Connect With Your
6. Prototyping:
Integrate Head,
Heart, Hand
5. CrystaIIizing:
Access the Power of Intention
Who is my SeIf?
What is my Work?
7. Performing:
PIay the "Macro VioIin"
1. HoIding the Space:
Listen to What Life
CaIIs You to Do

Listen to what life
calls you to do
Attend with your
mind wide open
Connect with
your heart
Connect to the deepest source of your self and will
Who is the Self?
What is my Work?
Access the power
of intention
Integrate head,
heart, hand
Play the “Macro-Violin”
I. Multi-stakeholder Innovation
Transforming a Regional Healthcare System,
In a rural area of approximately 300,000
inhabitants near Frankfurt, Germany, a network
of physicians applied the U process in several
ways, including in a patient-physician dialogue
forum. When negotiations between the
physicians’ network and the insurance company
stalled, the core group of physicians invited
other physicians and their patients to a one-
day meeting designed around the U process. In
preparation for the meeting, a group of students
trained in dialogue interviews spoke with 130
patients and their physicians. Then they invited
all of the interviewees to a feedback session,
which 100 of them attended.
During this event and afterward, the patients
and physicians moved from politeness and
debate to real dialogue and thinking together.
The initiatives formed or crystallized during
this day had a profound impact on the region.
One group proposed a standard format for
transferring information between hospitals and
outside physicians and has since opened an
office for the outside physicians at the largest
hospital in the region. It is jointly run by the
clinic and residential physicians and works to
improve critical interface between the two.
The group also prototyped and then institutional-
ized a new program that provides better emergency
care for patients, incorporates cross-institutional
cooperation, and costs less. As a result, factor 4 cost
savings have been realized, and patient complaints
in that region have decreased to almost zero.
ELIAS: Creating a Global Innovation
ELIAS (Emerging Leaders for Innovation
Across Sectors) is a network of twenty global
business, government, and civic organizations
dedicated to finding productive solutions to the
most confounding dilemmas of our time. Each
member is a powerhouse in its realm—BASF, BP,
Oxfam, Nissan, the Society for Organizational
Learning, Unilever, the UN Global Compact,
UNICEF, the World Bank Institute, and the
World Wildlife Fund, among others.
Together ELIAS members are examining
problems by combining systems thinking,
deepened personal awareness, and listening
skills with hands-on prototyping in order to
develop and test new cross-sector approaches to
some of today’s most difficult challenges. The
ELIAS pilot program convened a group of 25
high-potential leaders from these organizations
and sent them on an intensive learning journey
that included training in leadership capacity
building and hands-on systems innovation. After
shadowing each other in their work environments
(each fellow spent several days in the life of
one or more peers in another business sector),
the group traveled to China in the fall of 2006,
where they engaged in discussions with Chinese
thought leaders, consulted with sustainability
engineers, journeyed to rural China to observe
emerging challenges, and capped the trip with a
week of contemplative retreat.
• One of the prototyping projects
developed by the ELIAS pilot group
is the Sunbelt team, which is exploring
methods for bringing solar- and wind-
generated power to marginalized
communities, especially in the global
South. This decentralized, distributive,
democratic model would significantly
reduce CO2 emissions and foster
economic growth and well-being in
rural communities.
• Another team is testing alternative
energy resources, such as the
indigenous development of renewable
and hybrid sources of power for the
Chinese automotive industry.
Many projects using Theory U have been launched recently or are well under way.
Here are a few of the early examples and some of their first results.
• An Africa-based team is testing mobile
community-based life education as a
way to uproot the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
• An ELIAS fellow from the Indonesian
Ministry of Trade applied the U process
to government policies for sustainable
sugar production in Indonesia. His idea
was to involve all key stakeholders in
the policymaking process. The results
were stunning: for the first time ever
the Ministry’s policies did not result
in violent protests or riots by farmers
or other key stakeholders in the value
chain. Now, the same approach is being
applied to other commodities and to
standards for sustainable production.
The Indonesia-based ELIAS team
plans to launch a country version of
the ELIAS cross-sector innovation
platform in early 2008 that will focus
on the severe flooding problems in
• A Brazil-based team is focused on
integrating the whole demand-and-
supply chain for organic agricultural
products. They are creating infra-
structures, raising awareness, and
building skills and support networks of
small farmers using organic agricultural
methods. The goals include improving
contractual fairness and creating a
transparency that allows the entire
value chain, from the farmers to the
consumers, to see one another, connect,
and co-evolve. The ELIAS team from
Brazil also intends to launch a country
version of the ELIAS innovation
platform in Brazil in 2008.
• In the Philippines, one ELIAS
fellow of Unilever teamed up with
former colleagues who now work
in the NGO sector to form a venture
(MicroVentures) that advises and
finances women micro-entrepreneurs
in the Philippines by leveraging the
Unilever business and its network at
the community level.
What started as an idea by a few people
two years ago has turned into a vibrant and
rapidly evolving global network of change-
makers and prototyping projects. In addition
to company-city- and country-specific projects
and programs, ELIAS fellows have developed a
global ecology of prototyping initiatives and an
alumni network of high-potential leaders in some
of the most innovative institutions in business,
government, and the NGO sector. Together, this
global network hopes to use a web of activities
develop the capacity to respond to some of the
key challenges of our time in truly innovative
ways (Field 4 responses).
Other outcomes of participation in the ELIAS
program include:
1. Prototypes of cross-sector innovation that
address thte shared challenges of
• creating value for the triple bottom
line—the environment, society, and the
• economy—with the ultimate goal of
advancing global sustainability
2. A steadily growing network of leaders from
the public, private, and civic sectors
• that will enhance and accelerate the
benefits to individual members
3. Information and ideas for innovative
solutions to individual members’
• challenges
4. An enhanced capacity among leaders to deal
with the complexity of globalization
• and sustainable development through
practical innovations.
Zambia: Cross-sectoral Leadership for
Collective Action on HIV and AIDS
This initiative was formed by a cross-sectoral
group of leaders seeking to have a profound and
lasting impact on HIV and AIDS in Zambia.
Their goal is to shift the systemic undercurrents
that fuel the pandemic. They hope to achieve
a breakthrough in thinking and action that can
be applied to other areas and regions. Possible
prototyping projects being considered:
• changing the mind and heart of the
president of Zambia about HIV/AIDS,
perhaps by offering to provide him
with an HIV advisor;
• “waking up” other leaders and change
makers across society;
• changing the role of the media in Zambia;
• motivating people to get tested for HIV/
AIDS, perhaps by making counseling
mandatory for those who test positive;
• finding new ways to care for and
educate youth who must grow up
without parents.
The Sustainable Food Lab
The Sustainable Food Lab (SFL) comprises leaders
from more than 100 organizations that represent
a microcosm of the stakeholders in food delivery
systems. The purpose of this large-scale intervention
is to make food systems more sustainable. Current
members include individuals from the following
companies: Carrefour, General Mills, Nutreco,
Organic Valley Cooperative, Rabobank, Sadia,
Costco, US Foodservice, SYSCO, and Unilever;
from governmental organizations in Brazil and the
Netherlands, plus the European Commission, the
International Finance Corporation, and the World
Bank; from civil society organizations including the
National Confederation of Agricultural Workers of
Brazil, Oxfam, The Nature Conservancy, the World
Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers, and
the World Wildlife Fund. The Lab’s prototyping
projects are addressing supply chain innovations,
demand pull for sustainability, purchasing standards,
and policy changes.
The African Public Health Leadership and
Systems Innovation Initiative
This initiative will develop a replicable model
for improving public health leadership and
system performance using an approach called
the Innovation Lab. The Innovation Lab
increases leaders’ effectiveness by cultivating
their managerial skills and by addressing the
attitudes, values, and relationships that drive
behavior. It stimulates system change by
enabling cross-sectoral leadership teams to take
advantage of new opportunities and to clear
The Innovation Lab in Namibia will convene
healthcare leadership teams from government,
business, and civil society. Teams will be guided
through an intensive leadership development
and project-based learning experience over two
years. The pilot project of this approach seeks to
benefit people who are underserved by current
healthcare systems, particularly those living
on less than $2/day. The proposal has been co-
created by the Synergos Institute, the Presencing
Institute, Generon Consulting, and McKinsey &
Company in collaboration with partners in the
global South and has been submitted to the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding.
II. Corporate Applications
HP has applied Theory U in change efforts
within its digital photography business portfolio,
focusing on improving the customer experience
and cross-category business strategies. In 2005,
HP launched an effort to improve the value of
its digital photography products and services
by designing compelling customer experiences
across its broad portfolio. Although originally
designed to focus on customer experiences,
interviews with executives revealed that
delivering satisfying customer experiences
would require substantial cross-category and
cross-value chain strategy development and
alignment. A more holistic change effort was
then developed and launched, consisting of
four tracks: (1) an Executive Leadership track
to address executive learning and leadership,
including management of portfolio objectives
and leading interdependent cross-business
programs; (2) an Experience Design Operating
Model to address governance, decision-making,
collaboration, and lifecycle processes; (3) an
Experience Design track to develop the design
capabilities and capacity required to meet business
goals; and (4) an Organizational Development
track to grow the broader organizational
culture in support of the previous three tracks.
In the Executive Leadership track, an initial
workshop established a common ground
perspective of the digital photography
opportunities and challenges. This workshop
also established a learning agenda that served as
the foundation for executive learning journeys.
Based on the initial positive results of the
digital photography effort, HP is now pursuing
a broader use of Theory U in change efforts in
its Imaging and Printing Group.
Royal Dutch Shell
Shell has applied some key elements of Theory
U in change efforts at Shell EP Europe. In 2005
the organization was experiencing significant
problems getting its new Plant Maintenance
process to work. One site, a gas plant in the
Netherlands, with about 60 staff members, was
selected to be the pilot site for diagnosing
what was going on. Interviews with Shell staff
revealed that the problems in the organization,
while being attributed to new SAP software,
were more likely symptoms of the way people
were working together.
The rich material gained from the interviews
allowed a team of internal consultants to develop
a number of “what’s in it for me?” propositions
as a way of tapping into people’s feelings. The
propositions, in the form of cartoons, were used
in two small focus groups of six or seven
people to help Shell staff visualize a different
future. In the focus group dialogues, Shell
employees were able to express some of their
deeper feelings about working at the plant and
about SAP. They expressed a desire for less
conflict during the workday, and they welcomed
ideas for a new approach to organizational
effectiveness. Instead of seeking any specific
business targets, the team sought to create a
better environment for learning, innovation, and
change. The results of that approach proved to
be powerful and sustainable. Says Jurry Swart
of Shell: “After a couple of months we saw the
output KPI’s [key performance indicators] of
the process improving. Furthermore we saw a
cultural change in the whole organization, from
being negative and skeptical to one of inquiry
and keenness to move forward. A survey of the
Shell participants revealed greater motivation
and reduced frustration at the gas plant site.”
Leadership Development
With his colleagues, Otto Scharmer has
developed and conducted award-winning
leadership development programs based on
the U process in institutions around the world,
including Daimler, PricewaterhouseCoopers,
and Fujitsu. More than 150 leaders from
each organization have participated in these
programs to date, and together they function
as an important network for communication
and peer coaching on business innovation and
transformational change.
For example, at Daimler, all newly promoted
directors use the U method to deal with their
business and leadership challenges better and
faster. As they begin their new posts, they
explore their network leadership challenge
by conducting dialogue interviews with all of
their key stakeholders in order to see their new
jobs from the perspective of others. Each new
director is encouraged to ask four questions:
1. What is your most important objective,
and how can I help you realize it?
2. What criteria will you use to assess
whether my contribution to your work
has been successful?
3. If I were able to change two things
in my area of responsibility within
the next six months, what two things
would create the most value and benefit
for you?
4. What, if any, historical tensions and/
or conflicting demands have made
it difficult for people in my role or
function to fulfill your requirements
and expectations?
With the answers to these questions in hand, the
directors gather for a five-day U-based workshop
that helps them to connect more deeply to their
challenges, to one another, and to themselves.
The workshop and follow-up activities include
case clinics, dialogue, peer coaching, and a
room of intentional silence. Directors who
experienced this learning environment have
reported personal behavioral changes (such
as better listening skills and a greater capacity
to deal with pressure) that have led to new
leadership techniques, behaviors and results.
They have used many of these skills in their
own areas of responsibility and are beginning to
apply them to organizational and sustainability-
related change.
III. Presencing Institute
The Presencing Institute is a global community
of individuals, institutions, and initiatives that
apply and advance the U process of presencing
to collectively create profound innovation
and change. It is composed of key players
and leaders from business, government, and
civil society who are at the core of the rapidly
evolving project ecology described above. The
Presencing Institute focuses on refining the
social technology of presencing and making
it available to all change-makers who want to
operate from a future space of possibility that
they feel wants to emerge.
The Presencing Institute will offer regular public
capacity-building programs in the global North
and global South (North America, South America,
Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia) beginning in 2007
and 2008. It aspires to create a global constellation
of “power places” or “planetary acupuncture
points” that function as holding spaces and a
supporting infrastructure for an incipient global
movement that integrates science, consciousness,
and profound social change.
To join the Presencing Institute:
To order the book, Theory U: Leading from the
Future as It Emerges:
www.theoryU.com or www.amazon.com
For additional copies of this Executive
to download and print your own copy from a
pdf file, or leave your email address to receive
free printed booklets.
Dr. C. Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT
and the founding chair of ELIAS (Emerging
Leaders for Innovation Across Sectors), a
program linking twenty leading global institutions
from business, government, and civil society in
order to prototype profound system innovations
for a more sustainable world. He also is the
founding chair of the Presencing Institute and a
visiting professor at the Center for Innovation
and Knowledge Research, Helsinki School of
Economics. Scharmer has consulted with global
companies, international institutions, and cross-
sector change initiatives in North America,
Europe, Asia, and Africa. He has co-designed and
delivered award-winning leadership programs
for client organizations including Daimler,
PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Fujitsu.
Scharmer holds a Ph.D. in economics and
management from Witten-Herdecke University,
Germany. His article “Strategic Leadership
within the Triad Growth-Employment-Ecology”
won the McKinsey Research Award in 1991. A
synthesis of his most recent research has resulted
in a theoretical framework and practice called
“presencing,” which he elaborates in Theory U:
Leading from the Future as It Emerges (2007),
and in Presence: An Exploration of Profound
Change in People, Organizations, and Society
(2005), co-authored with Peter Senge, Joseph
Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers. With his
colleagues, Scharmer has used presencing
to facilitate profound innovation and change
processes both within companies and across
societal systems. More information about
Scharmer and his work can be found at:
In a world burdened with too much information, we are occasionally blessed with a genu-
inely new idea about how to perceive, think about, and act on our overly complex world.
Scharmer’s Theory U model of how to open our mind, emotions, and will to moments
of discovery and mutual understanding is profound and much needed. Readers will be
impressed not only by the depth of theory in this volume but also by the very practical
approach that Scharmer provides us for enlarging our human capacity for growth. This
will be an important book.
— Edgar Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus,
MIT Sloan School Management
Though many agree with Einstein’s observation that “problems can not be resolved at
the level of consciousness, that created them, “the key question remains how to realize
such a shift. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U offers a unique integral perspective combined
with a practical approach to addressing the mega-issues facing our world today.
— Jack Jacometti, Vice President, Global GTL Development,
Shell International Gas Limited
Theory U is destined to be one of the defining paradigms of the 21st century.
— Nicanor Perlas, recipient of the 2003 Alternate Nobel Prize
and the UN Environmental Program Global 500
We are using the Theory U method with diverse leadership teams in the U.S., Europe,
and Asia. The impact on our organization is remarkable, but even more important is
the amazing personal growth many leaders have experienced. Scharmer’s work has
allowed them to experience a new approach to the world.
— Marcia Marsh, Senior Vice President Operations, World Wildlife Fund
Otto Scharmer has given us a brilliant, provocative, and important book on the leading-
edge of the “next big thing”: integral thought. Highly recommended.
— Ken Wilber, author, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision
for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality
This book is a must-read for all who are interested in the emerging future of leadership
theory and practice. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U takes you on an exciting deep dive into
the true center of leadership as a process of inner knowing and social innovation. With
many tested and practical exercises drawn from a rich background of disciplines, this
book will help you to discover and follow the path towards mastery on your own leader-
ship journey. It pushes the envelope of current leadership wisdom and invites you to
explore the strongest leadership tool there is: yourself.
— Ralf Schneider, Head of Global Talent Management, PricewaterhouseCoopers
This book is an inspiration. It gives definition to the mystery of the creative process. It
confirms and clarifies what we have been doing at our company. Thank you Otto for this
great work!
— Eileen Fisher, President and Chief Creative Officer, EILEEN FISHER Inc.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful